Around Latin America

January 27, 2012

-While the United States tries to address its deficit by cutting military spending, a new study suggests that defense spending in Latin American countries is on the rise, with the main expenses being arms sales from China. Meanwhile, Adam Isacson points us to this useful map that shows bases in Latin America that received U.S. aid in 2010 (though Isacson makes clear that “aid” does not actually determine whether or not U.S. forces and officials were actually on the ground at any of these sites).

-Boz has the summary of Obama’s State of the Union address on Tuesday night regarding Latin America, with the president mentioning the region in terms of trade, immigration, and foreign policy. Overall, Obama mentioned the region five times, the most it’s been mentioned since Bush’s 2008 address (6 times) and the second-most times since 2004.

-A Guatemalan court ruled yesterday that ex-general Efraín Ríos Montt will face trial for genocide for his role in the human rights violations and murders of thousands of Guatemalans during the Guatemalan civil war, which lasted more than 30 years. In court, Ríos Montt, who has opted for what some consider a high-risk defense strategy, remained silent in the face of testimonies and questions, telling the judge he “prefer[red] to remain silent” when asked if he had a response to the charges. Ríos Montt was president from 1982-1983, during which some of the worst human rights abuses of the war occurred. Ríos Montt famously had the support of Ronald Reagan, who declared that Ríos Montt was “totally dedicated to democracy” and that he got “a bum rap” even while armed forces were razing indigenous villages and murdering Guatemalan civilians.

-In a move for basic human rights, Ecuador’s government has vowed to crack down on clinics that try to “cure” gays and lesbians.

-An ex-U.S. diplomat testified that American officials were aware that the Argentine military dictatorship of 1976-1983 kidnapped babies from dead or imprisoned “subversives”. Elliott Abrams testified in the trial of ex-dictators Jorge Videla and Reynaldo Bignone that the U.S. was aware that the practice of taking children from “subversives” and giving them to other families was “systematic” in a practice that is still having very real repercussions on the lives of individuals and Argentine society more generally even today. Bignone and Videla have already been convicted of other human rights violations for their role in leading the military dictatorship, during which the military regime murdered upwards of 30,000 civilians.  (h/t Lillie Langtry).

-Environmentalists estimate that it could take eighty years for the Torres del Paine national park to recover from a wildfire that broke out in  December 2011 and that continues to rage through parts of the forest.

-Cuban dissident blogger Yoani Sanchez has been granted a tourist visa to travel to Brazil to view the premier of a documentary on the crackdown on freedom of expression in the Honduras coup of 2009 that overthrew democratically-elected president Manuel Zelaya.

-Over at Tim’s El Salvador Blog, there is a guest post that reveals the very real threats environmentalists in El Salvador continue to face on a daily basis as they work for environmental improvements and conservation.

-A debate has emerged in El Salvador over just how responsible for the country’s high murder rate gangs actually are. While many blame gangs for the murder rate of 70/100,000 people (4,374 in absolute numbers in 2011), others point to the role of drug traffickers, death squads, state security agents, and common criminals.

-In Rio de Janeiro, rescuers are searching the rubble of two buildings that collapsed in the downtown area on Wedesday night, renewing calls to reform Rio’s antiquated building codes.  Early reports blame unapproved construction for the collapse, which was captured on CCTV and which has already killed six people, with another sixteen still missing.

-In a move that shouldn’t surprise anybody, Chevron has appealed Ecuador’s $18 billion judgement against the oil company for its role in dumping pollutants into the environment, including into water supplies that humans used, between 1964 and 1990. Meanwhile, Brazil is planning to find criminal charges against Chevron and its local managers for an oil spill off the coast of Brazil in November 2011.

-In a turn for the worse, the international agency Reporters Without Borders issued its 2011 report, which found (among other things) that most countries in Latin America dropped in the “press freedom index,” with Chile alone dropping an astonishing 47 spots due primarily to crackdowns in the wake of the student movement’s protests and demands for reform that brought the country to a halt last year.

-For the first time ever, Brazilian national oil company Petrobras has appointed a woman to head the state-owned corporation. Maria das Graças Foster, 58, will take over the company in February.

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